THE BLOG
04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Turning Our Pets Into Eunuchs Unethical?

Hey, gals, would you like to get rid of that pesky behavior in your man? The roving eyes ogling sexy young women, the rough and tumble aggression on the flag football field, the bed, or the freeway? Even male pattern baldness? Well, don't stop at a vasectomy for birth control, when you can go all the way to castration and remove those annoying effects of testosterone on his health and behavior.

Guys, would you like to see your little lady--and you--free of suffering from PMS, peri-menopause, mood changes, acne? If she gets her uterus and her ovaries removed, the lack of estrogen and progesterone will turn her in no time from a "Bitch" to your "Baby." Tempting, eh?

Of course I'm kidding. Few of us since the dark age days of choir castrati would recommend the complete removal of reproductive organs as behavior modification agents. Even when medically indicated, such surgery in humans today is typically followed by hormone replacement therapy to ensure that we experience minimal disruption in our adult lives. No argument there. My question deals with our human authority to implement such invasive changes in our so-called pets. In other words, do we humans have the right, in the name of birth control, to impose a eunuch's life on a dog or cat so that we can have a cleaner, cuddlier house pet?

I would have to answer "no." I know, I know, that dog and cat overpopulation leads to scrabbling on the streets, scrapping with other animals, injuries, and early death from trauma or the overwhelmed resources of a "euthanastic" animal shelter. Though uncomfortable in principle with performing any procedures without "consent," I can acknowledge the value of birth control surgery such as a tubal ligation or a vasectomy to control unlimited reproduction. Unfortunately, most interventions now include complete removal of the reproductive organs, ovaries or testicles, that produce female or male hormones, with the goal of "improving" animal behavior and reducing the annoyances of spraying, baying, and mating.

When I rescued my two cats, brother and sister, as three-month-old kittens from our local shelter's death watch, I was not allowed to take them home until they had been spayed and neutered. Now, I admit to enjoying the warmth of their soft fur as they cuddle next to me and my husband during chilly nights. Yet I can't ignore a nagging thought that we have co-opted and manipulated their true natures--they should be seeking and fully enjoying the companionship of their fellow cats, and not their well-meaning, but ultimately imprisoning "owners."

The ultimate question has been asked and answered by humans in literature over the ages. Are we best served by life in a cage, no matter how safe and sweet such domestication is? I posit that the question applies to animals we relate to as well--especially if biological manipulation is part of the locking mechanism that keeps them happy "in prison".

To my own cats, I apologize. To save their lives, I had to agree to change their lives. And, for that, I'm sorry.

Yolanda Reid Chassiakos MD is the co-author (with Deborah Shlian MD) of the medical mystery thriller "Dead Air" as Linda Reid.